Burning Down the House – The Crisis in American Psychoanalysis: How Wokeism and Identity Politics are Destroying the Profession and Marginalising Jews

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I used to work as a clinical psychologist on a 40-bed inpatient psychiatry unit of a general hospital. The ward was challenging but ran well until a person with borderline personality disorder was admitted to the unit, then all hell would break loose. Emotional drama, acting out, yelling, and general disruption would begin to erode the safety and healing space of the therapeutic milieu. Accusations would fly, punctuated by verbal hostility, devaluation, and rage followed by temper tantrums, reprisals, and the need for revenge. Patients and staff were split-off into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and often pitted against each another, followed by further antagonism, destructive envy, retaliatory aggression, and threats that sometimes led to violence or being expelled from the unit. On one occasion, a female patient set fire to her room attempting to burn down the floor. This might be an apt metaphor to describe what is currently transpiring in American psychoanalysis today. The house is divided and is precariously close to self-implosion, if not simply being set ablaze.

The borderline in the house is woke ideology fuelled by identity politics where race, gender, anticolonialism, and social justice activism is steering the field into a warped yet dominant narrative of oppression and power held by privileged white heteronormative men and Jews. And a particularly insidious division or splitting within psychoanalytic organisations is based on race. The Psychoanalytic Division of the American Psychological Association (APA) has already been largely captured by wokeism in its turn toward Critical Social Justice (CSJ), and the newest casualty is the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA). And the same person is behind all the brouhaha: Lara Sheehi.

Dr. Sheehi made international news after a civil rights complaint was filed against George Washington University (GWU), where she teaches, for alleged antisemitism, discrimination, harassment, and hate speech directed toward her Jewish and Israeli graduate students who were in her mandatory diversity course. The complaint is currently under investigation by the US Department of Education. But the more outrageous scandal came when her public Twitter account was revealed showing blatant hatred for Israelis and her anti-Zionist bigotry. In fact, she does not believe Israel should exist. Imagine saying that to citizens of any other country.

You would think this type of hate rhetoric would get you deplatformed, if not immediately fired, but something odd happened. She is being widely supported and even praised for standing up to oppression, colonising systems of power, and so-called racist white supremacist men—simply for being white—and Zionist Jews who are in positions of privilege and authority. But is this really happening? Is there any evidence for this? More on this in a moment.

Sheehi denies being antisemitic despite wanting to ‘Destroy Zionism’ and the Jewish state, as her infamous tweets glorify. Given the unconscious cannot help but speak the truth, in a video interview on Arab Talk, Sheehi insists on the ‘categorical rejection of myself being characterised as antisemitic and also the unwielding [sic] and sort of unbelievable burden particularly on Arabs and people [who] talk about Palestine to prove they are antisemitic as a precursor to anything we do’ (time stamp 5:41-6:01). As a good ol’ fashioned Freudian slip, she of course meant to say ‘are not antisemitic,’ but she shows her true colors all the same. The purportedly only ‘good Jews’ are those who support the Boycott (BDS) of Israel.

The institutional capture of two major American psychoanalytic organisations, the Division 39 of the APA, where Sheehi is President, and now the APsaA, is well underway. After the scandal with GWU made breaking news, the professional listservs of both organisations went wild. Sheehi engineered an aggressive media campaign not only to exonerate her name, but to radically reshape and control the narrative thereby painting the picture of being targeted as an Arab woman. Playing the race card seemed to pay off; because she was partially successful in manipulating a discourse that plays right into woke sentiments and reactionary identity politics alike, namely, crying prejudice and discrimination—as if you can’t criticise someone’s ideas who is not white without being slandered a racist.

But then something unanticipated happened. The President and President-Elect of the APsaA, Drs. Kerry Sulkowicz and Daniel Prezant, announced on behalf of the Executive Committee (EC) that it decided to clean its organisational house because of internal controversy and political corruption. They announced that the Program Committee (PC), which has the important task of determining the intellectual content of the organisation’s conferences, including who gets to present papers, was being immediately disbanded. The Program’s Chair, Dr. Donald Moss, another poster boy of wokeness who declares that white babies are born racist, was refusing to put on the June meeting.

As you can anticipate, the center of the new controversy was Dr. Sheehi who the EC decided to disinvite to speak at its June conference due to the escalating conflict with GWU and her open disdain for Israel that some on the EC believed constituted antisemitic hate speech. Sulkowicz even tips us off that some critics would predictably claim this decision was based on discrimination that she is a woman of colour, but he assures us, this was simply not the case. We are further informed that the PC had failed to do its job, formed a coup, had hijacked all the power over the programming choices, had engaged in nepotism, incestuously favoured a select group of insiders to give their own papers—essentially controlling everything—and then, when the PC did not get its way, it refused to put on the June conference altogether: all over Sheehi. Sulkowicz and Prezant had taken the first strong leadership position any psychoanalytic organisation had shown over the tarnishing scandal.

Within three hours, Sheehi had responded publicly on the membership listserv using the same strategy she had employed with her previous numerous public complaints—she was being ‘ targeted’ by the ‘politically motivated, racist and discriminatory actions of APsaA’ based in systemic racism, misogyny, and anti-Arab bigotry that were communicated in ‘dishonesty and bad faith’ to the membership. But then, surprisingly, at the end of her tirade, she promptly resigned from the organisation and her committee duties.

Soon Sheehi’s supporters on the listserv accused the organisation of systemic racism. These charges were mounted mostly by those who disclosed differences in identity, such as the colour of their skin, their ethnicity, sexual and gender identity, and national origin. After virtue signalling difference and waving identity flags, all the talking points revolved around the spectre of racism cast upon the leadership—and by osmosis the membership—en masse. But there you have it. Identity politics had infiltrated and infected the entire organisation within one day. White, senior, mostly Jewish men were being roasted by a woke mob with pitchforks and lighter fluid in hand.

What was further disturbing was that Dr. Dorothy Holmes, Chair of the Holmes Commission on Racial Equality, issued a serendipitous and inappropriate response on behalf of the whole task force that the American Psychoanalytic Association was racist. And this was before the Commission has yet to deliver a comprehensive report on their findings over the three years they have been tasked with investigating racial equality in the organisation. But a close look at the Commission’s agenda reveals that it reached its conclusion before its work began: it was ‘established with the mission of investigating systemic racism and its underlying determinants embedded within APsaA.’ This was not the basis for an unbiased or independent scientific study. The conclusion of systemic racism in the organisation is already presupposed and predetermined. Nowhere does the Commission disclose its methodology nor provide evidence, despite that investigation into objective facts being the very thing it needs to prove, rather than what it ‘feels’ to be the case. Feeling, intuition, and fact are not the same.

Soon people were dropping like flies. Members of the PC and EC, including almost all people of colour, resigned, and called for a no confidence vote in the APsaA leadership including demanding the resignation of the President, President-Elect, the EC, and even the Board of Directors. People were submitting and signing petitions to dismantle the current leadership, typically younger professionals, refusing to participate in the programming of the summer conference, and even resigning their APsaA memberships.

But then, in a most obsequious manner, Sulkowicz apologised to Sheehi on behalf of the EC, re-invited her to present at the June conference, grovelled to the membership they had offended and who ostensibly caused ‘damage and pain,’ and offered a gesture of recognition, reparation, and healing. But the mob still wanted to burn him at the stake, so he resigned as President. They wanted the President-Elect’s head too, but he stood his ground, at least for now.

The President’s resignation letter was both conciliatory yet revealing. He pointed out the borderline dynamics operative in the membership, the tendency to turn against itself at its own peril, and the social justice ideology that has captured the profession based on woke politics. He specifically highlights the ‘illiberal, extreme left in APsA has gotten a grip on the Association and asserted its exclusive occupancy of the moral high ground, despite representing a relatively small portion of our membership.’ This is the reason he gave for why he had ‘no viable choice but to step down.’ But the next point he makes lies at the heart of why woke psychoanalysis with its cynical focus on grievance is a clear and present danger to the field as a whole:

They exert a chilling effect not only on conversation, but on thinking, with reflexive accusations of unconscious or systemic bias at the first hint of questioning or criticism. And they have needed to find a scapegoat, ideally a white male representing authority and privilege, someone to bring down, as a symbol of their aims. These members seem to want to transform APsA from a professional organisation into a primarily political activist organisation. All of this seems antithetical to the mission of APsA and to core psychoanalytic values of listening, understanding and abstaining from moral judgment.

There has been a turbulent force within the association intent on bringing about a new organisation that replaces the cardinal locus of healing individual suffering to political activism that favours a certain brand of identity politics based on changing society. The ‘first hint of questioning or criticism’ means you cannot query nor have a discussion, let alone a debate, on anything a non-white person says without being called a racist. This type of ad hominem reasoning, emotive paroxysms of illogic, or appeal to the stick is hardly worthy of serious attention, let alone validity. And when people of colour use the colour of their skin as a shield against criticism and as a justification for crybullying in the conversation, then their race-baiting strategies bear false witness against thy neighbours. Moreover, it entrenches pre-existing prejudices psychoanalysts are attempting to study in good faith with empathy and respect for alterity.

Sulkowicz leaves us with a parting observation about ‘the need to address antisemitism in our ranks, which is often the most invisible form of racism.’ What is truly hypocritical here is the false flag operation and double standard that is salient in these identity politics games. Sulkowicz is Jewish, is the child of Holocaust survivors, and is the father of a non-binary activist Asian-American woman. In his personal life and all his commitments to social justice initiatives, he is simply thrown under the bus by those who simply want to harangue and proselytise.

But there is a backstory the membership is largely unaware of: Sheehi threatened APsaA with a lawsuit a week before she was disinvited from the June conference. Notice the use of the legal terms ‘discriminatory’ and ‘bad faith’ in her resignation letter. Conjure up the paranoid position and watch the panic, hysteria, and mayhem unfold.

Try to intimidate, threaten, and coerce a national psychoanalytic organisation with a lawsuit to keep you from embarrassment over being disinvited to a speaking engagement? Might as well burn the house down. Declare your victimhood, threaten to sue, ignite pandemonium in the membership, the other side caves, you are reinstated, then fracture and destroy the organisation anyway, just for spite.

APsaA now resembles the dysfunction that can be typical of some psychiatric wards. Once the borderline enters the unit, the whole community starts to disintegrate. Regression, affect dysregulation, splitting, volatility, primitive projections, scapegoating, bullying, fury, and pathological enactments abound with no constraint. We may unequivocally witness the debris such dysfunction has left in its wake in the psychoanalytic world. Acts of cannibalisation, exhibitionism, and defamation on APsaA’s professional listserv have poisoned the well. Calling out, attacking, vilifying, castigating, censoring, suppressing real debate in the most uncivil manner—hence creating the most toxic and sinister atmosphere imaginable—all from the so-called enlightened elite seduced by activist propaganda.

Social justice activism is the new hysteria packaged as upholding values of diversity, anti-oppression, and antiracism. It is in fact the new form of tyranny that is colonising the professions. It is based in group narcissism and cloaked in moral absolutism and grandiose certitude. Let us hope that the APsaA does not continue to become an embarrassment to the psychoanalytic world.

Burning Down the House – The Crisis in American Psychoanalysis: How Wokeism and Identity Politics are Destroying the Profession and Marginalising Jews

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